Former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is taking an early lead in fundraising in his bid to succeed Jesse White as Illinois secretary of state, adding $1.4 million to his campaign war chest less than a year before voters will decide which Democrat they want to move on to the general election.
“Without the ability to hold in-person events or engage in retail politics, our campaign adapted early on to embrace non-traditional strategies and digital platforms to navigate and overcome these challenges,” Giannoulias said in a statement. “Our ability to successfully pivot has paid off as we’ve exceeded our goals and put the campaign in a strong position moving forward.”
Giannoulias raised $1.4 million in the first three months of the year from stalwart Democratic donors such as Lester Crown and Michael and Cari Sacks, as well as early endorsers from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and others, including California’s Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, finance records from his campaign show.
Michael Sacks is an investor in the group that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.
The funds were raised during the first filing period of the year, from Jan. 1 through March 31. Politicians have until April 15 to submit their campaign finance reports to the state.
Added to what he already had in his account, the new fundraising gives Giannoulias over $2.1 million cash on hand for the race, which has become crowded with announced and prospective candidates since Jesse White, who has held the office since 1999, said he won’t seek re-election. White said that in 2016 before changing his mind, but most Democrats are assuming he means it this time.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, who was chosen to lead the Democratic Party of Illinois last month, served as chief of staff to Giannoulias during his time as treasurer.
Asked if the state party would be supporting Giannoulias or anyone else in the primary, a spokeswoman said the party “is not supporting any candidate at this point.
“The chairwoman and full state central committee will discuss as we get closer,” the party official said.
In January, Giannoulias received the backing of locals No. 881 and 1546 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. After that, he won the support of 14 local chapters of the Illinois International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
Beyond the endorsements, the former U.S. Senate candidate leads in the money game in the prospective campaign field.
State Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, joined the race in March and has raked in $246,450 so far this year, state board of elections records show.
Hastings billed himself as “not your typical politician” when he spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times last month. He said he plans to draw on the experiences he’s had to help differentiate himself from those already in the race and those still deciding whether to jump in.
“Jesse White has really built a strong foundation for the office, but with Jesse’s retirement I think young, energetic leadership that has experience can really modernize the office for the next decades to come,” Hastings said.
Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia formed an exploratory committee in December for a potential bid for the office. And Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) have also said they are looking at running for the position.
Valencia ended the last filing quarter with $236,082 cash on hand, Yarbrough with $37,315.
Valencia has pulled in $145,000 since her January filing earlier, while board of election records don’t show any new cash in Yarbrough’s campaign coffers.
Dowell reported a campaign deficit of $8,879.46 at the end of last year, but she raised $73,148.16 since then.
The secretary of state handles the rather mundane tasks of issuing driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. But it’s one of the most coveted elected offices in Illinois — full of easy publicity, thousands of jobs and the potential to serve as a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion or another, higher office.
White made it clear when he was first elected in 1998 that he had no interest in using the position to run for higher office.
That was significant since the previous two secretaries of state — Republicans George Ryan and Jim Edgar — both used the office as a springboard to successful campaigns for governor. Before Edgar, Democrat Alan Dixon used it to win a U.S. Senate seat.